How Jennifer Aniston Went From Sitcom Star to Hollywood Power Player

The actor, producer and entrepreneur has blazed her own path in Hollywood—from ‘Friends’ to ‘The Morning Show.’ Here’s how.

By guest author Ellen Gamerman| Photography by Gray Sorrenti for WSJ. Magazine | Styling by Clare Richardson

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As an actor and a producer, Jennifer Aniston keeps a foot in two worlds. So it’s fitting that when she enters a room in her Los Angeles home, she sits down on the rug in a split, her legs nearly 180 degrees to the left and right. If metaphors did Pilates, they’d look like this.

It’s a casually confident entrance that can only be pulled off by someone who has walked the earth as a celebrity far longer than she has as a civilian.

But there’s business just under that breezy introduction. While contemporaries like Reese Witherspoon are known for leading entertainment empires, Aniston is more of a stealth mogul, a veteran who launched a production company before actress-producers were everywhere in Hollywood but who, until recently, never threw herself into that dual role in such a visible way. Now she’s poised to amp up her production company with new projects, exerting more hands-on involvement in her work than at any prior point in her career.

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“Being able to be a part of something from the ground up, it’s quite fulfilling and I feel very comfortable,” she says, stretched across the floor in a position few could achieve. “I don’t feel divided. It’s sort of an easy hat to swap.”

Aniston and Witherspoon are stars and executive producers of the Apple

Original series The Morning Show, which is anticipated to return for a third season on Apple TV+ in September. The venture, key to launching Apple into streaming TV, has a habit of mirroring reality. The show focused on sexual harassment amid the explosion of the #MeToo movement. The pandemic drove the season 2 narrative. Now there’s a brash billionaire with a rocket, the threat of a network sale and a world emerging from the physical and emotional lockdown of the pandemic.

Aniston plays Alex Levy, a journalist who is brewing up a fight for power that she knows she’s earned, even if the dummies in the suits don’t.

At 54 years old, the actress is familiar with that script.

    Ahead of the new season of ‘The Morning Show,’ the actor and producer talks about ‘Friends,’ ‘Fame’ and her favorite red-carpet look.

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“There was a time in my world, my career, where I realized it’s not being aggressive or combative or bitchy or emotional to stand up for what you deserve and what you want,” she says. “It’s a tough muscle to build. And also be loved and respected. It’s hard to achieve.”

Aniston has remained an international name despite not hitting the superhero circuit or nabbing roles as long-lasting as Rachel on Friends. What she has is staying power, an especially significant feat given how often Hollywood sidelines women in midlife.

The Morning Show addresses the age of its stars head-on. At one point, Alex pulls her cheeks tight in a face-lift sort of gesture while looking glumly in the mirror. The head of the network’s news division throws a dart at Witherspoon’s upstart journalist Bradley Jackson: “Why aren’t you further along in your career at this point?” “ ‘At this point?’ You mean, I’m too old to be the young, feisty journalist?” “Maybe.” Joining the 47-year-old Witherspoon are Julianna Margulies, 57, who plays a news veteran and on-and-off love interest for Bradley, and Holland Taylor, 80, as a haughty board chair.

I don’t feel divided,” says Aniston of juggling her roles as both an actor and a producer.  “It’s sort of an easy hat to swap.” Rick Owens dress, USD 1685, RickOwens​.eu, Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello shoes, USD 1090, YSL​.com.

“When you’re in your 40s and your 50s you have accumulated so much knowledge and power,” says director and executive producer Mimi Leder. “Our show is about very strong women who have very strong opinions, who are very flawed, who represent a lot of women in the world.”

Aniston and Witherspoon rose up in the industry together, connecting when Witherspoon played Aniston’s younger sister on two episodes of Friends in 2000. The two became familiar with barriers.

“The material that I was interested in or she was interested in wasn’t really being made. And if it was, we weren’t the actresses getting the opportunities,” Aniston says. “So we were given the wonderful option of being able to create our own material.”

When they met, the entertainment world looked very different from today. “You think about ownership as a woman in the media industry—it just didn’t exist,” Witherspoon says.

“It’s nice to share a lot of the responsibility with somebody that you’ve known forever.” – Reese Witherspoon

During her Friends stint, Witherspoon says the cast was negotiating collectively for equal pay—a strategy that would ultimately land the show’s stars USD 1 million each per episode. Witherspoon was just starting out, and the unity of the Friends cast stayed with her.

With The Morning Show, their media companies—Echo Films for Aniston, Hello Sunshine for Witherspoon—run what Aniston calls a “chick club” behind the camera.

“Being that we’re female, there’s a level of understanding, compassion and consideration that I think doesn’t always exist amongst the dudes,” Aniston says of this season’s creative team, which includes, among others, writer, executive producer and season 3 showrunner Charlotte Stoudt (and at least one man, executive producer Michael Ellenberg).

Aniston has worked with enough toxic people, she says, to know the kind of set she wants to run.

“It was one of our big rules up front,” she says. “No assholes.”

“Make sure you’re getting in bed with people you’re going to be happy to wake up with in the morning,” says Aniston of vetting business partners. Celine vest, USD 1,150, tank top, USD 570, and belt, USD 590, Celine​.com, vintage Levi’s jeans, USD 298, SocietyArchive​.com.


Aniston’s winding road from girl-next-door comedic actress to prestige-TV producer starts like so many other stories about her do: with her personal life. While she and her husband at the time, Brad Pitt, were it-couple newlyweds, they created their own production company, teaming up with Aniston’s close friend Kristin Hahn and producer Brad Grey, who would go on to become chief executive of Paramount Pictures.

In the early 2000s, Plan B Entertainment was born. The company’s first homegrown project was The Departed, the 2006 crime drama directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which made roughly USD 291 million worldwide. While at Plan B, Aniston was a part of projects including The Time Traveler’s Wife, A Mighty Heart and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Inside Plan B, gender dynamics were sometimes at play around Aniston’s and Hahn’s overall contributions, the actress says.

“Talk about a male-female situation,” Aniston says of her and Hahn’s reception. “It was a male-dominated sort of environment, and it was like, ‘Oh, aren’t you two cute?’ ”

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After Aniston and Pitt announced their divorce in early 2005, Pitt remained at Plan B while Aniston moved on. In 2007, The Departed won the company the best-picture Oscar and nabbed Scorsese his only Academy Award, for directing. That success was followed by best picture Oscars for 12 Years a Slave and Moonlight. Last year, Plan B sold a majority stake in the company to French media conglomerate Mediawan in a deal that valued Plan B at more than USD 300 million, according to the Financial Times.

Aniston is sanguine about the lost opportunity that business split represents. “It was like, ‘Go with God and be successful and fantastic,’ which they have been,” she says. “It was the only decision. And not in a negative way. It just was what was right at the time.”

Friends continues to loom large for the actress, who still wears Rachel’s red loafers and a floral dress belonging to Monica, her show friend played by her real friend Courteney Cox. She hangs onto not just the sentimental leftovers of the show that ran from 1994 to 2004, but the business acumen that came from it.

“It taught us everything,” she says.

Aniston and Reese Witherspoon in ‘Friends’; Witherspoon and Aniston in ‘The Morning Show.’ Getty Images; Courtesy of Apple


The cast’s solidarity in salary negotiations offered the central takeaway. “It would’ve destroyed us, I think, if someone was soaring financially,” says Aniston, who won a 2002 Emmy for lead actress in a comedy series.

Aniston’s post-Friends career didn’t kick into a new gear until a few years after the sitcom’s finale. In 2007, she switched managers to Aleen Keshishian, the industry insider who has helped guide stars including Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Rudd and Selena Gomez.

“I’d gone through my divorce, and there was a real shift in my life in terms of coming out from under the rubble of that. And then I was finding my work to be a real place of solace,” Aniston says. “[Aleen] came in and kind of witnessed how I behaved in the business then, and she would give me these great bits of advice, almost like a pep talk. ‘You’re going to get on the phone, you’re going to address it like this.’ ”

In 2008, Aniston and Hahn launched their production company, Echo Films. That year the actress executive produced and starred in the comedy Management, playing a traveling sales rep pursued by Steve Zahn as a lovable loser motel manager. Echo’s other star vehicles were somewhat scattershot. There was the 2010 sperm-donor screwball comedy The Switch, co-starring longtime pal Jason Bateman, and a dive into more serious material with the 2014 drama Cake, where Aniston plays a woman with chronic pain who explores a suicide in her support group.

“Her faith that I would be able to articulate why I was the right actor for it just went a long way.” — Billy Crudup

Echo recently produced Murder Mystery 2 for Netflix, in which Aniston reprises her role as a mystery-novel-loving hairdresser who lucks into a lavish vacation and uncovers a deadly plot alongside her husband, played by Adam Sandler. Aniston and Sandler are close friends who met in their 20s. Aniston, who does not have children and has spoken openly about her struggles with fertility treatment, says Sandler and his wife send her flowers every Mother’s Day.

The Morning Show represents a milestone for Aniston as a producer. “This is very big-girl,” she says. “The other projects we’ve done have been a movie here and there. So this is the first real big show that was sold to Apple.… And we kind of felt like we were all partnering up together and launching this new maiden voyage together.”

On set, Aniston and Witherspoon are camped in side-by-side trailers. The two run back and forth during breaks to handle broader storyline issues and put out surprise fires, like finding a last-minute replacement when an actor comes down with Covid.

“It’s nice to share a lot of the responsibility with somebody that you’ve known forever,” says Witherspoon, whose executive producer credits on series include the 2017 hit Big Little Lies and this year’s Daisy Jones & the Six.

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“I’m a businesswoman who’s got a crunchy side,” says

One of Aniston’s early moves as executive producer was to push for the casting of Billy Crudup as Cory Ellison, the network executive with a Cheshire-cat grin who mostly instigates chaos. Aniston urged Crudup to fly out from New York to L.A. and make the case that he was the one for the job. “Her faith that I would be able to articulate why I was the right actor for it just went a long way,” he says.

The show has received 11 Emmy nominations and one win, with Crudup taking home the 2020 trophy for supporting actor. That same year, Aniston won a Screen Actors Guild award for her performance as Alex.

When Mark Duplass took a look at the celebrity-filled cast of The Morning Show, he figured the series was going to be, in his words, “a shitshow.” After taking on the role of Alex’s longtime producer Chip Black, he was struck by all the good vibes, especially, he says, “considering how big the cast is in sheer numbers and how many powerful, enormous personalities are on the set. And I have to believe that that is a trickle-down from the leadership.”

Some of the work is more granular, like last season when Aniston asked the crew to fill a car with cameras trained from all directions on her and Duplass. Both she and Duplass work best in the early takes, he says, and she didn’t want the blowout fight they were about to perform to get diluted in reshoots for close-ups and other camera angles. The result: The two improvised, overlapped and kept the scene’s intensity in just a few takes.

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“She’s always looking out for those kinds of things,” says Duplass. “There’s this way she does it that it’s not threatening to the director’s vision or…tossing out any of the writer’s words.”

Still, Aniston’s intense form of fame was palpable on set. Jon Hamm, new to the cast as a swaggering corporate titan, recalls that during one New York City shoot paparazzi made loud noises on the street to startle a reaction out of her. “It’s like having a fireworks display go off five inches from your head,” he says. Yet she continued to be present in the scene, he says. “She just handled it with such grace and as much humour as you can.”

The actress does sound tired of the endless media cycles, though. “I’m so over cancel culture,” she says. “I probably just got canceled by saying that. I just don’t understand what it means.… Is there no redemption? I don’t know. I don’t put everybody in the Harvey Weinstein basket.”

“You think about ownership as a woman in the media industry—it just didn’t exist.” — Reese Witherspoon

The Morning Show arrived after a crush of sexual harassment allegations that began with disgraced producer Weinstein. She has no Weinstein harassment stories of her own, she says, but her memories are not fond.

“He’s not a guy, you’re like, ‘God, I can’t wait to hang out with Harvey.’ Never. You were actually like, ‘Oh, God, OK, suck it up.’ I remember actually, he came to visit me on a movie to pitch me a movie. And I do remember consciously having a person stay in my trailer.”

Weinstein says that “she never had any uncomfortable instances with me.”

On a sunny afternoon in May, Aniston and I walked outside her Bel-Air home, passing two sleek doghouses in a tidy green enclosure. With her were her rescue dogs Clyde, part schnauzer, and Lord Chesterfield, a Great Pyrenees mix. Aniston is a dog person, and we chatted about our pets. I showed her a picture of Earl, my dog who died in 2021. After being appropriately worshipful of his cuteness, she turned to me.

“He’s so with you,” she said. “Don’t you feel him?”

She’s past caring whether you think she’s woo-woo. “I’m a businesswoman who’s got a crunchy side,” she says with a shrug, explaining why she brought up subjects like her psychics, and the time one of them predicted she would meet Pitt—not him specifically, but a description that fit him.

She carefully screens the people she works with in film and her other ventures. Those side hustles include her LolaVie hair-care line and her partnerships with fitness program Pvolve and Vital Proteins nutritional supplements.

“Make sure you’re getting in bed with people you’re going to be happy to wake up with in the morning,” she says of vetting business partners.

Speaking of which?

“My dog,” she says. “That’s who I’m sleeping with.”

She’s realized over the years the undeniable impact of her childhood on her adult life. “It was always a little bit difficult for me in relationships, I think, because I really was kind of alone. I don’t know. My parents, watching my family’s relationship, didn’t make me kind of go, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to do that,’ ” she says. “I didn’t like the idea of sacrificing who you were or what you needed, so I didn’t really know how to do that. So it was almost easier to just be kind of solo. So I didn’t have any real training in that give-and-take.”

These days, she’s working on not sacrificing her own desires to please another person. “It’s just about not being afraid to say what you need and what you want. And it’s still a challenge for me in a relationship. I’m really good at every other job I have, and that’s sort of the one area that’s a little….” She trails off. In 2018, she and her partner Justin Theroux parted ways.

When it comes to looking young, she says she’ll try almost anything once. Recently, an aesthetician suggested a salmon-sperm facial. “First of all, I said, ‘Are you serious? How do you get salmon’s sperm?’ ” She doesn’t know if it did anything. She also swears by weekly peptide injections that purport to battle the effects of aging. “I do think that’s the future,” she says.

Aniston exercises and, with willpower that allows her to eat a single chip at a sitting, ditches her clean diet only on Sundays, when she invites friends over for dinner with treats like homemade In-N-Out burgers. One nonstarter: “Thin fads; they don’t interest me. Because I know what that is all about. That’s just calories in, calories out.”

She’s so certain about her likes and dislikes that when she travels in Europe she brings her own pimiento-stuffed olives—she needs to know that she can always have a decent dirty martini. She’s still haunted by a kalamata olive in her glass one time, and trying to explain
what a pimiento was to someone who didn’t understand her. (She pointed desperately to an olive emoji.)

Considering the olives in her luggage, she laughs. “I know what I want.”

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Aniston was filming this season of The Morning Show in late 2022 when her father, John Aniston, died. It was six years after the death of her mother, with whom she had a turbulent relationship. After her father’s death, she compartmentalized, waiting to collapse into tears until she reached her trailer at the end of the week.

Much of her career arose out of an “I’ll show you” impulse to prove wrong those who doubted her decision to become an actress, including her father. “He thought I was going down the road of absolute destruction and heartache,” she says. “And then I kind of got a whole different relationship with him once he had something to talk to me about. Which was, ‘Oh, you’re an actor. I’m an actor.’ ”

Her father, a Days of Our Lives soap opera star, had been declining for several years when he got Covid and never bounced back, says Aniston.

After his death, she was buoyed by signs that she says appeared almost immediately, indicating to her that he was still with her in some form.

Before her father’s funeral, she grabbed a crystal that she’d kept for years. Then, while standing by the coffin, she tucked it into his jacket. When she got home, she saw a piece of the very same crystal on her vanity. She had no idea it had broken and that she’d only left half with her dad. She’ll make her part into an amulet.

“I feel closer to him now than I did almost when he was alive,” she says. “I feel like he’s everywhere. I really do.”

Without either parent, there’s no longer any grown-up standing between Aniston and whatever comes next. Her long career and her years in the public eye put her somewhere into survivor territory, though she balks at that word. She describes making her way in life without college or much help from her family. When she needed to, she held her own hand.

“I feel like I am a self-made woman,” she says, “and I’m really proud of that.”



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